From the Nile to the Mississippi: A History of Event and Wedding Planning

September 1, 2006


By Joella Cain

Few people, unless they are history buffs, would know that one of the earliest event planner was none other than Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile. Cleo captured both lovers and husbands with her innovative events. First she set her cap on the Roman emperor, Julius Caesar, and when she couldn’t get an audience with him, she had one of her servants deliver her, rolled-up in an oriental carpet and dropped at the foot of the almighty ruler. Not only was he impressed, he was captivated by her chutzpah and they became lovers.

After their union disintegrated, she wanted to “wow” Mark Antony. She set a meeting with him and created such an entrance that he immediately succumbed to her charms and originality.

Cleo decided her entrance should make a statement, a must in event planning. She chose to sail down the Nile on a barge with multi-colored sails sprayed with perfume and loaded with candles. The time was dusk. The candles were glowing, the perfume flowing, and all of her handmaidens were costumed, as was the Queen. She had a menu that was fit for a king, and the after dinner drinks put Antony in a daze. However, her coup de grace was the boudoir, which was covered with rose petals. This was her pre- engagement event and it cinched the deal.

Everything the Queen did was extraordinary and well planned. She was indeed one of the first event planners. Another historical planner was the famous Madame Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV of France. She kept him interested for about twenty years by throwing fabulous parties that incorporated all of the musicians and artists of the day and using elaborate costumes and party themes. Louis never grew bored and loved to be entertained by his enchanting party planner rather than his wife.

One last event planner worth mentioning is the infamous Marie Antoinette. Living in the last lavish days of France before the revolution with her husband King Louis XVI, Antoinette often planned extravagant affairs. Finally her husband, loving this style of entertainment, had Le Petit Trianon built for her in addition to an entire village where she could produce her plays and host fabulous parties. She was the hit of the day, until she was beheaded for this very extravagance.

As you can see, event planning isn’t new, and neither are wedding planners. Weddings, however, have become more like gala events and far more elaborate affairs. The most recent over-elaborate wedding was that of Donald and Melania Trump held in Palm Beach, Florida, a year ago at Mar a Lago.  The Trumps were married in a newly built ballroom costing over $40 million. The wedding itself would have cost over a million dollars, possibly two, but Donald owned the ballroom, so the cost of the facilities was waived and the food was on the house. This extravagant event was the wedding of the year.

Today, it is nothing to hear of celebrities and corporate scions paying in excess of one million dollars for their weddings. Madonna, Paul McCartney and Tori Spelling all had weddings exceeding the million-dollar range.

In 2006 wedding planners were charging up to $100,000 depending upon the affair. The typical fee for a wedding planner runs between $10,000 and  $50,000.

Ellen Gutierrez, of Bride’s Vision Weddings and Events, claims that the average wedding in and around St. Louis usually runs about $25,000.

Of course, says Gutierrez, if you only have one hundred guests, that is a pretty elaborate affair.

Gutierrez charges a minimum fee plus a percent of the entire budget. She can work on a long lead time or put a wedding together in eight weeks if the bride is flexible. When asked what was the wildest thing that happened lately at one of her weddings, she laughed. “Well, it was after the fact that it became funny. The groom must have locked his legs because all of a sudden he fainted. It took a while for him to revive, so the paramedics were called. He was embarrassed, but today, he is still married and the couple has a baby.”

The traditional June wedding is a thing of the past. Gutierrez’ busiest months are in the fall. “The fall in St. Louis is lovely and the weather can’t always be counted on to cooperate during the showers in late spring.”

The Foundry Art Centre in St. Charles, Missouri, has been booking weddings since it opened several years ago. The sheer magnitude of the main gallery plus a stage with lighting and sound system lend themselves to a wonderful event.

“We have been crazy since 2005 when we presented twenty weddings. The number jumped to thirty-five weddings in 2006. Most of the functions take place in May, June and October,” says Joyce Rosen, Director of the Foundry Art Centre. At present, it does not offer an in-house wedding planner, but the bride can work individually with her own.

A more elaborate venue for a wedding, but with several stipulations, is the St. Louis Art Museum. If you want to use the beautiful Sculpture Hall you must be a Beaux Arts member at the Patron level, which is $2,500. Then the rental for the hall is $3,000. “We just had a beautiful wedding in Sculpture Hall and they erected a tent around the statue in front of the museum,” says Kristin Lamprecht, the events coordinator for the museum. “There were 300 guests and they had cocktails under the tent, dinner inside at the restaurant, then dancing again under the tent.” Restaurant rental carries a fee of $800. Lamprecht claims this was one of the nicer weddings, more elaborate weddings in recent years at the museum.

Located near Forest Park, in the artistic Central West End, is the famous Chase Park Plaza Hotel. Director of catering, Kelly Rosenblatt says it hosts about 1 to 2 weddings per weekend. “We have a large enough property to accommodate simultaneous weddings. And, of course, our staff is capable of handling most of the requests with the bride and groom adding to the mix. Many of our weddings have diverse cultural backgrounds, which makes it very interesting.” When asked what humorous happenings have transpired at weddings there, she laughed. “Well, during one wedding the mother of the bride ran around the hotel carrying her shoes. I felt sorry for her and asked if her feet hurt that badly. She replied that they did. So, I ran downstairs into our gift shop and they just happened to have a pair of flip-flops that matched her beaded gown. So, the mother of the bride spent all day and throughout the reception with a pair of flip-flops on. It wasn’t exactly Vera Wang but she was thankful as her feet didn’t hurt.”

On to the tony town of Clayton, Missouri, where the Ritz-Carlton is a wonderful venue for weddings. Reggie Dominique, director of sales and marketing, says the Ritz has about 35 weddings per year. “Our staff is capable of handling an entire wedding and our average cost of a regular wedding runs approximately $120 per person. An expensive nuptial can easily cost $300 per person.”

As events coordinator for the Keeter Center, Chris Burgess does plenty of weddings during the year. The Keeter Center is located on the campus of the College of the Ozarks. What is unique about this event center is, it is staffed by the college students who work a certain number of hours each week to pay for their tuition. “This is a college where the students learn about hotel management from A through Z. Weddings can start anywhere from $5,000 and go upwards,” says Burgess.

There is far more to planning weddings than just the actual costs. If you’re planning a wedding you must consider that the facilities, music, flowers, catering and the wedding planner all go together to make that day perfect. For instance, Spectrum Band, directed by Tim Calliway in St. Louis, will run between $1,500 and $2,500.

Skip Cassoutt of Hearts and Roses in St. Charles is probably one of the best flower arrangers in the business. “The most expensive and elaborate wedding I did was at Tan-Tar-A in the Ozarks and the cost was about $150,000 for the entire wedding. The price for each plate was $95. This was just a classic black and white wedding, but first class. We do two to three weddings per weekend and the price range for those runs $3,000 to $5,000. Our themed weddings, where the floral decorations and bridal bouquets all carry out the theme, might run from $5,000 to $6,000.”

Often times the décor can be more expensive than the actual wedding. Ken Sharples, owner and founder of Creation Productions of West Palm Beach, is doing an over-the-top wedding this September where the centerpieces for each of the twenty-five tables cost $875 apiece. Sharples figures the cost, just for décor, will be approximately $70,000. “The most famous wedding we did was Brooke Shields’ second marriage here in Palm Beach. She was a pleasure to work with but the wedding was small and inexpensive compared to more outrageous celebrities’ weddings that cost upwards of one million dollars.”

In addition to all the accoutrements, the women in the bridal party must have hair and make-up. Depending upon the number of women in the party, it can run anywhere from $500 upwards.

Since that perfect day will not be cheap, at any rate, it should be an investment and “till death do us part” seems fitting.

(Joella Cain is a contributor from West Palm Beach, Fla.)


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